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Periodic Trends

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Chemistry

What if, once you knew the position of an element in the periodic table, you were able to predict its properties?

Luckily for you, this is actually the case. This is because the periodic table shows periodicity. It means that you'll find certain trends in the properties of elements, that repeat in regular intervals as you move along the table. Want to know more about these trends? Then you've come to the right place!

  • This article is about periodic trends in inorganic chemistry.
  • To start with, we'll define periodicity.
  • We'll then take a look at periodic trends as you move along a period in the periodic table.
  • After that, we'll explore periodic trends as you move down a group in the periodic table.
  • By the end of this article, you should be able to describe and explain the trends in electron configuration, atomic radius, electronegativity, first ionisation energy, and melting and boiling points. We'll also look at density and electrical conductivity.

What are periodic trends?

The periodic table is a wonderful thing. The version that we use today was created in 1869 by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, and built on the work of scientists such as John Newlands. Mendeleev ordered the known elements by atomic mass, but noticed that they showed certain properties which repeated every eight or so elements. He therefore also arranged the elements in rows and columns, so that elements with similar properties were above and below each other in the table. In some cases the properties didn't quite match up; here, Mendeleev left gaps in the table, proposing that they would be filled by then-undiscovered elements. He was proven right when these elements were later discovered.

Periodic Trends, the periodic table, StudySmarterThe periodic table. Image credits: commons.wikimedia.org

All in all, the periodic table is a regular arrangement of elements by atomic number. Rows are called periods, and columns are called groups. The elements are so arranged to show periodic trends.

Periodic trends are repeating patterns found in the periodic table as you move across a period or down a group.

Another word you might come across is periodicity. Periodicity implies repetition after a certain period or gap. In the case of the elements, periodicity means the repetition of properties of elements after a certain gap of atomic number. Mendeleev noticed the periodicity that occurred every eight or so elements, and arranged them accordingly. Let's now take a look at some of the trends he saw and explain why they occur.

We look more closely at the structure of the periodic table, as well as its history, in Periodic Table.

Periodic table trends

As we saw above, rows in the periodic table are known as periods. Columns in the periodic table are known as groups. All in all, there are seven periods and eighteen groups in the periodic table. This might seem like a lot to learn about, but as you'll see, they show regular periodic trends when it comes to certain properties. The properties we'll look at today include:

  • Electron configuration
  • Atomic radius
  • Electronegativity
  • First ionisation energy
  • Melting and boiling points
  • Density
  • Electrical conductivity

First up - electron configuration.

Periodic trends in electron configuration

What do an element's period and group tell you about its electron configuration? Luckily for you, knowing where it lies on the periodic table tells you exactly how it is structured. The period of an element tells you how many electron shells it has - for example, elements in period 2 all have two electron shells. The group of an element tells you how many electrons it has in its outer shell. For example, all the elements in group 3 have three electrons in their outer shell. Let's see how this varies across a period and down a group.

Electron configuration across a period

The number of electrons increases by one each time you move across a period. Each element has exactly one more electron than the element immediately to the left of it, and exactly one less than the element to the right. However, all elements in the same period have the same number of electron shells.

Take period 2, for example. All of the elements within it have just two electron shells. The first element in the period, lithium, has three electrons, whilst the next, beryllium, has four. This is shown in the periodic table by atomic number. An element's atomic number is its number of protons, but in a neutral atom, this is equal to its number of electrons. You can see in the image below that atomic number increases as you move along the period.

Periodic Trends, electron configuration period 2, StudySmarterPeriod 2, shown with atomic number in the top left. Based on a StudySmarter Original by Olive Odagbu

Electron configuration down a group

The number of electron shells increases as you go down a group. However, elements in the same group have exactly the same number of electrons in their outer shell - the only difference is the number of inner shells.

For example, all the elements in group 1 have just one electron in their outer shell. But whilst hydrogen has only one electron shell in total, the next member lithium has two, and sodium has three.

Periodic Trends, electron configuration group 1, StudySmarterGroup 1 elements, shown with their electron configurations in brackets. Created using images from commons.wikimedia.org

Periodic table radius trend

Atomic radius is the distance from the centre of the nucleus to the outermost shell that contains electrons. It is measured in picometers, pm.

Atomic radius depends on factors such as nuclear charge and number of electron shells, which we'll now explore.

Atomic radius across a period

Atomic radius decreases as you move along a period in the periodic table. But why is this the case? To explore this fully, we need to look at the atomic structure of elements in a period.

In the modern periodic table, elements are arranged by their atomic number. Atomic number is the number of protons an element has in its nucleus, found in the centre of the atom. Each element has the same number of protons as it does electrons, so atomic number also tells us the number of electrons in an element. These electrons are found orbiting the nucleus in shells. Although elements in the same period have different numbers of electrons, they have the same number of electron shells. Take a look at the example below. Carbon has six electrons, whereas oxygen has eight. However, both have just two electron shells.

Periodic Trends, electron configuration of carbon and oxygen, StudySmarterThe electron configurations of carbon and oxygen. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Electron shells are attracted to the nucleus thanks to a strong electrostatic attraction between the positively charged nucleus and the negatively charged shells. This determines atomic radius.

As you go across a period, the atomic number increases - each element has one more proton and one more electron than the element before it. It means that the nucleus' charge increases. The outermost electron shell experiences a stronger attraction to the positively charged nucleus, so the negative electrons are pulled in closer to the nucleus in the centre of the atom. This decreases atomic radius.

Periodic Trends, carbon and oxygen atomic radius, StudySmarterAtomic radius of carbon and oxygen. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Atomic radius down a group

Atomic radius increases as you go down a group. You might be wondering why. As you move down a group in the periodic table, atomic number increases - surely this means that nuclear charge increases as well? But as you go down a group, the number of electron shells increases, and so the outer electrons are found in shells further from the nucleus. This increases atomic radius.

Here's an example. Lithium and sodium are both found in group 1 in the periodic table. They both have one electron in their outer shell. However, sodium has more electron shells than lithium and so has a larger atomic radius.

Periodic Trends, difference in atomic radii between Lithium and Sodium, StudySmarterThe electron configurations of lithium and sodium, showing atomic radii. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Periodic trends in Electronegativity

Now let's look at trends in electronegativity.

Electronegativity is an atom's ability to attract a shared pair of electrons.

Shared pairs of electrons are always found in the outer shell of an atom. Electronegativity is all to do with the strength of the attraction between these bonded electrons and the atom's nucleus. Electronegativity depends on factors such as nuclear charge, number of electron shells, and shielding by inner electrons.

Electronegativity across a period

Electronegativity increases across a period. We have learnt that not only does nuclear charge increase as you move along a period, but also that atomic radius decreases. This brings the bonded pair of electrons closer to the nucleus. But we can't just look at the total nuclear charge - we need to look at the overall nuclear charge that the bonded electrons experience, thanks to shielding by inner electron shells.

We also know that elements in the same period have the same number of electron shells. This means that they have the same levels of shielding. If nuclear charge increases across a period, but shielding remains the same, then the overall nuclear charge felt by the bonded pair of electrons must increase. Thus, electronegativity increases.

Let's use carbon and oxygen as an example again. Carbon has six protons in its nucleus. However, the charge of two of these protons is shielded by two inner shell electrons. Oxygen has eight protons in its nucleus. Once again, the charge of two protons is shielded by two inner shell electrons. The outer shell electrons in carbon experience an overall effective nuclear charge of +4, whilst those in oxygen experience an overall effective nuclear charge of +6. Oxygen also has a smaller atomic radius than carbon. Therefore, it has a higher electronegativity.

Periodic Trends, electronegativity of carbon and oxygen, StudySmarterHow electron shielding affects the electronegativity of carbon and oxygen. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Electronegativity down a group

Electronegativity decreases down a group. Although nuclear charge increases, the number of inner electron shells also increases, and these inner electron shells shield the charge of the additional protons in the nucleus. As a result, the overall nuclear charge felt by the bonded pair of electrons remains the same. But we also know that atomic radius increases as you move down a group, meaning the bonded pair of electrons are further away from the nucleus. Thus, electronegativity decreases.

For example, earlier, we looked at lithium and sodium. Lithium has three protons in its nucleus, but the charge of two of these protons is shielded by two inner shell electrons. Sodium has eleven protons in its nucleus, but the charge of ten of these protons is shielded by ten inner shell electrons. Outer shell electrons in both elements experience an overall nuclear charge of +1. However, sodium has a larger atomic radius than lithium. Therefore, it has a lower electronegativity.

Check out Electronegativity for a further explanation.

Periodic Trends, periodic table electronegativity, StudySmarterElectronegativity trends in the periodic table. Created using images from commons.wikimedia.org

Periodic trends in first ionisation energy

Like electronegativity, ionisation energy is all about the attraction between electrons and the nucleus.

First ionisation energy is the energy required to remove the outermost electron from one mole of gaseous atoms. It can be represented by the equation .

It depends on factors such as nuclear charge, atomic radius, and shielding by inner electron shells.

First ionisation energy across a period

Ionisation energy increases across a period. This is because nuclear charge increases and atomic radius decreases, but the number of inner shielding electron shells remains the same. Overall, there is a stronger attraction between the outermost electron and the nucleus, making it harder to remove it.

First ionisation energy down a group

Ionisation energy decreases down a group. Although nuclear charge increases, the number of inner electron shells also increases. These electrons shield the charge of the additional protons in the nucleus. In addition, atomic radius increases, meaning the outermost electron is further from the nucleus, and is, therefore, easier to remove.

We look at this in more detail in Ionisation Energy. If you are wondering about the two dips in the graph below, showing that boron and oxygen have lower ionisation energies than expected, check out Trends in Ionisation Energy to find out why.

Periodic Trends, first ionisation energy of period 2, StudySmarterThe first ionisation energies of period 2. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Periodic trends in melting and boiling points

All the trends that we've looked at so far have shown clear patterns and trends, either increasing or decreasing as you move along a period or down a group. We can say that they show periodicity. However, melting and boiling points don't show such clear trends.

Melting and boiling points across a period

Melting and boiling points vary across a period and depend on the structure and bonding of the particular element. Let's take period 3 as an example.

Periodic Trends, melting point of period 3, StudySmarterMelting points of period 3. Anna Brewer, StudySmarter Original

Can you see that there is no pattern? Melting points rise and fall across the period. Let's look at why this is so in more detail.

Firstly, sodium, magnesium, and aluminium have medium melting points. This is because they bond using metallic bonding, forming giant metallic lattices held together by electrostatic attraction. To melt the metals, you need to overcome this metallic bonding. Aluminium has the highest melting point of the three as it has the strongest metallic bonding. This is because the ions within the structure have both a higher charge and a smaller atomic radius than the ions within sodium and magnesium: aluminium forms 3+ ions whereas sodium and magnesium form 1+ ions and 2+ ions respectively.

Secondly, silicon has a high melting point. This is because it is a giant covalent macromolecule. All of its atoms are held together by strong covalent bonds, which require a lot of energy to be broken.

Thirdly, phosphorous, sulphur, and chlorine have low melting points. This is because they are simple covalent molecules. Although there are strong covalent bonds within the molecules, the only forces between molecules are weak intermolecular forces which don't require much energy to break. Sulphur has a higher boiling point than phosphorous and chlorine because it forms larger molecules. This increases the strength of the intermolecular forces found between its molecules.

Finally, argon has a very low melting point. This is because it is a monatomic gas. It has extremely weak intermolecular forces between atoms which require hardly any energy to overcome.

Check out Metallic Bonding for more information, and Intermolecular Forces to learn how molecular size affects forces between molecules.

Melting and boiling points down a group

Melting and boiling points also vary as you move down a group. For some groups, such as the halogens (group VII), melting points increase as you move down the group. But for other groups, such as the alkali metals (group I), melting points decrease as you move down the group. There's no one clear trend that can be applied to all groups - if only life was that simple!

Summary of periodic trends

That's a lot of different trends you need to know about! To help consolidate your knowledge, we've put together a handy table that summarises the periodic trends we explored above.

TrendAcross a periodDown a group
Electron configuration+1 electron+1 electron shell
Atomic radiusDecreasesIncreases
ElectronegativityIncreasesDecreases
First ionisation energyIncreasesDecreases
Melting and boiling pointNo clear trendNo clear trend

To finish, we'll take a deep dive into two other periodic properties: density and electrical conductivity.

Density initially increases as you move along a period in the periodic table. However, it then drops dramatically when you hit the right-hand side of the table. This is because the elements become gases, and on average, the particles are found much further apart from each other. Density also increases as you move down a group. The densest element in the periodic table is osmium, Os.

Periodic Trends, density, StudySmarterThe density of elements in the periodic table. periodictable.com

Electrical conductivity shows a similar trend. Groups I - III, as well as the d-block elements, have a high electrical conductivity. This is because they bond using metallic bonding, and so contain delocalised electrons which are free to move and carry a charge. In contrast, groups IV - VIII tend to have a low electrical conductivity. This is because they bond using covalent bonding. Their outer shell electrons form part of a shared pair of electrons and aren't free to carry a charge.

However, some group IV elements are surprisingly good at conducting electricity. Take carbon, for example. It can form a solid called graphite. In graphite, three of carbon's four outer shell electrons are covalently bonded to other carbon atoms, and the fourth outer shell electron is delocalised. This means that it is free to move through the substance and carry a charge. Other elements, such as silicon, are semi-conductors. This means that they have properties somewhere between those of a conductor and an insulator. Silicon also bonds covalently, but if you heat it up enough, some of its electrons can move into what is called the conduction layer, leaving behind an electron hole. These electrons are free to move throughout the substance and carry a charge.

Head over to Carbon Structures to learn more about graphite.

Periodic Trends - Key takeaways

  • Periodic trends are repeating patterns found in the periodic table as you move across a period or down a group.
  • In the periodic table, rows are known as periods and columns are known as groups.
  • Elements in the same period have the same number of electron shells, but differ in their number of outer shell electrons.
  • Elements in the same group have the same number of outer shell electrons, but differ in their number of electron shells.
  • Atomic radius decreases across a period and increases down a group.
  • Electronegativity increases across a period and decreases down a group.
  • First ionisation energy increases across a period and decreases down a group.
  • Melting and boiling points show no clear periodic trend and depend on the structure of the element.

Periodic Trends

Periodic trends are repeating patterns found in the periodic table as you move across a period or down a group. Properties that show periodic trends include atomic radius, electronegativity, and first ionisation energy.

Ionisation energy increases moving along a period and decreases going down a group.

Electronegativity increases across a period and decreases down a group.

Final Periodic Trends Quiz

Question

What is the correct classification of the element Zr, zirconium

Show answer

Answer

d block

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Question

What is the correct equation for the second ionization energy of Rubidium?


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Answer

Rb + (g) → Rb2 + (g) + e–

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Question

What is the unit of atomic radius?

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Answer

pm

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Question

In what order are elements arranged in the periodic table? 


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Answer

Increase in atomic number

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Question

Why does atomic radius decrease across the period?


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Answer

Nuclear charge increases

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Question

Why does electronegativity increase across a period?

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Answer

Electron in same shell-similar shielding

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Question

Which of these elements has the largest atomic radius?

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Answer

K

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Question

Which of these elements has the highest first ionization energy?

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Answer

F

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Question

As you move up and to the right on the periodic table.

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Answer

Atomic radius decreases and electronegativity increases

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Question

What does periodicity mean?

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Answer

The repetition of properties of elements after a certain gap of atomic number.

Show question

Question

What is the periodic trend in atomic radius?

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Answer

Atomic radius decreases across a period and increases down a group.

Show question

Question

Which element has a larger atomic radius?

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Answer

Lithium

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Question

Which element has a larger atomic radius?

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Answer

Hydrogen

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Question

How does electron configuration vary across a period?

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Answer

All elements in the same period have the same number of electron shells. However, each element has one more electron than the element before it.

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Question

How does electron configuration vary down a group?

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Answer

Elements in the same group have the same number of outer shell electrons. However, each element has one more electron shell than the element before it.

Show question

Question

Describe the periodic trends in electronegativity.

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Answer

Electronegativity increases across a period and decreases down a group.

Show question

Question

Which element has a higher electronegativity?

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Answer

Carbon

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Question

Which element has a higher electronegativity?

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Answer

Beryllium

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Question

Describe the periodic trend in first ionisation energy.

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Answer

First ionisation energy increases across a period and decreases down a group.

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Question

Which element has a higher first ionisation energy?

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Answer

Nitrogen

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Question

Describe the periodic trend in melting and boiling points.

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Answer

There is no clear periodic trend in melting and boiling points. They depend on the structure and bonding of the element.

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Question

Why does silicon have a high melting point?

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Answer

Silicon forms a giant covalent macromolecule, held together by strong covalent bonds. In order to melt, these covalent bonds need to be broken, which requires a lot of energy.

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Question

Why does aluminium have a higher melting point than sodium?

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Answer

Aluminium experiences stronger metallic bonding than sodium. This is because it forms ions with a smaller atomic radius and greater charge.

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Question

Atomic number ____ as you move along a period in the periodic table.

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Answer

Increases

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Question

True or false? Elements in the same group have the same number of electron shells.

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Answer

False

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Question

How many valence electrons do group I elements have?

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Answer

1

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Question

How many valence electrons do group VII elements have?

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Answer

7

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Question

Which group in the periodic table has a full outer shell of electrons?

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Answer

Group VIII, also known as group 0

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Question

How many electron shells do elements in period 3 have?

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Answer

3

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How many outer shell electrons do period 3 elements have?

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Answer

It depends

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Question

What are columns in the periodic table known as?

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Answer

Groups

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Question

What are rows in the periodic table known as?

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Answer

Periods

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Question

How many groups are in the periodic table, according to IUPAC nomenclature?

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Answer

18

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Question

Elements in the same block all have _____.

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Answer

The same number of outer shell electrons

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Question

Which of the following are typical properties of metals?

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Answer

High melting and boiling points

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Question

Which of the following are typical properties of non-metals?

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Answer

High electronegativity 

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